Liberals’ Views on Market-Rate Development are Affected by Homeownership and Ideology

An article published in Housing Policy Debate, “Liberals and Housing: A Study in Ambivalence,” examines the views of political liberals regarding housing development and zoning changes. The author, Michael Manville, focuses on political liberals because much of America’s housing affordability crisis is concentrated in metropolitan areas with liberal governments and electorates. His findings suggest that liberal homeowners are more likely than other homeowners to support building more market-rate housing, but less likely than other homeowners to do so when deregulation might be required. Given that housing deregulation is often viewed as a conservative policy, Manville urges liberals to consider housing deregulation as part of a larger family of deregulatory policies that can advance progressive goals.

Many political liberals appear to oppose the development of market-rate housing as a solution for the housing affordability crisis, preferring the development of subsidized housing. Political liberals may be hesitant to support new market-rate development as it could initially lead to price increases and gentrification. In the long run, however, new development increases supply and can help keep housing prices in check. Increasing market-rate development in supply-constrained communities, however, may require deregulation, something political liberals often oppose. At the same time, homeowners may oppose new development seeing it as a threat to their property values. Political liberals, especially homeowners, may have reasons to oppose market-rate development even though it contributes to the progressive goal of housing affordability.

To understand how political orientation and housing tenure shape attitudes about housing, Manville analyzed data from two surveys of Californians collected by the Public Policy Institute of California in May and September 2017. Both liberal homeowners and liberal renters indicated strong support for funding subsidized housing. Seventy percent of liberal homeowners and 80% of liberal renters also indicated general support for more market-rate production when asked about it outside the context of deregulation. Politically liberal homeowners were 9 percentage points more likely than conservative homeowners to support new market-rate housing. Liberal homeowners, however, were 46% less likely to support deregulation to allow more market-rate housing than political moderates, whereas conservative owners were 121% more likely than moderates to support deregulation to allow more market-rate housing. Neither liberalism nor conservatism among renters had a statistically significant relationship with support for deregulation to increase market-rate housing.

These findings support the notion that building more housing can be a divisive issue for liberals. More housing production is needed in many communities where political liberals are overrepresented, but political liberals especially homeowners, in these communities appear skeptical of increasing the supply of market-rate housing through deregulation. A sustained expansion of affordable housing programs could also increase the affordable housing supply and mitigate housing affordability issues, but these programs are often restricted by the same zoning regulations as market-rate housing. Manville concludes this tension could be resolved if liberals begin viewing housing deregulation as part of a larger family of deregulatory policies, such as anti-trust laws or criminal justice reform, which can advance progressive goals.

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